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Tempera on panel
MFA# 95.1372


A water thinned paint that dries to a water resistant film. Egg tempera is an aqueous emulsion paint with an egg yolk or whole egg binder that originated in medieval Europe. These paints dry to a semi-matte appearance by the evaporation of water and the coagulation of the egg protein. After about 1400 CE, variations of tempera were made with egg/oil, gum/oil, glue/oil and other emulsions as artists began to experiment with drying oils. As linseed oil paints became popular at the end of the 16th century, tempera died out. It enjoyed a revival near the end of the 19th century when Cennino's treatise was published.

Some other water thinned paints that dry to form a water soluble film are sometimes incorrectly called tempera paints (e.g., Distemper, Gouache, Poster paint and watercolors).

Synonyms and Related Terms

egg tempera; gum tempera; glue tempera; oil tempera; tempera paint; Pittura a tempera (It.); tempera (Fr., Deut., Ned.); témpera (Esp.); Malarstwo temperowe (Pol.); têmpera (Port.)

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Paint in America, Robert Moss (ed.), John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994 Comment: M.Phillips, "A Victorian Trompe l'Oeil"
  • D. van der Reyden "Identifying the Real Thing" ww.scmre.org/analysis.htm
  • The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996